The Broadway in Atlanta series, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, has brought the national company of the musical “An American in Paris” to the Fox Theatre, where it will run through Aug. 20.
The Broadway show opened to much acclaim in New York in 2015 and was honored with 11 Tony nominations and four wins (for Best Choreography, Lighting, Orchestrations, and Scenic Design).
As you may know, it is based on the 1951 Academy Award-Winning Best Picture, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. It was graced, as is the stage musical, by the glorious music of George and Ira Gershwin. You may not know that the music is based on George Gershwin’s jazz-influenced 1928 orchestral composition, after the composer had spent some time in the City of Light.
The musical play (book by Craig Lucas) is set immediately after World War II in Paris, where American soldier Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) decides to pursue a career in painting in that fabled city. He meets pals Adam (Etai Benson) and Henri (Nick Spangler). He also meets a mysterious, beautiful young Parisienne, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), who just happens to be a ballerina—or will, shortly.
I must report that on opening night, as Adam is speaking directly to the audience about Nazis and their recent occupation of Paris, you could have heard a pin drop. We’ve had a serious “political thing” (as “Cabaret’s” Sally Bowles would put it) about Nazis and fascists in this country, but we shall not discuss that here. Odd how art imitates life—or is it the other way around?
Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), an American philanthropist, decides to take Jerry under her wing and introduce him to the crème de la crème of Paris artistic society; it isn’t long before he’s madly in love with Lise, who has some decisions to make. I shall not reveal any more of the plot; it unfolds easily, aided by extraordinarily beautiful music and dancing.
In fact, one could call this show a “dance musical” and not be inaccurate. There is plenty of ballet, which is quite magical; and then there is the Gershwin music. Such songs as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Liza,” and “Who Cares?” all build up to an incredible climatic ballet called—“An American in Paris.” This is music you know even if you don’t realize you do; it’s in the cultural Zeitgeist.
The actual plot is rather thin (so is the beautiful film); and I must say that on opening night the pace of the spoken dialogue was often a bit slow. I think the actors were getting adjusted to the vast Fox, which is the largest theatre (seats 4500) for live theatre in the United States (Radio City Music Hall does not run Broadway shows). I think things will pick up for the rest of its run here.
But romance, giddy and glorious, is in the air; the war is over, and Paris is picking itself up from the Occupation. In fact, one must say that the great city is itself a character in the show. The gorgeous visuals (lighting by Natasha Katz, production design by 59 Productions, and set and costumes by Bob Crowley) are breathtaking. One detects art inspired by Matisse, Picasso and others in the brilliant projected visuals.
Christopher Wheeldon directed and choreographed “An American in Paris” and to him we offer thanks and accolades. You won’t see dancing of this caliber in any other current American show. In fact, if you think you don’t like ballet, this show may well change your mind. Also kudos to actors Gayton Scott, Ryan Steele, and Leigh-Ann Esty.
My companion for the evening, inspired to eloquence, said that seeing the show was like baby formula in a world currently tolerating a diet of bullets and hate. He used words like “pleasant,” “beguiling,” “French,” “moments of loveliness”; I do not disagree with him.
For more information and tickets, visit foxtheatre.org.